In early March, the fruit trees blossom—peach and almond, apricot and persimmon. The Valley air hangs sweet with their perfume from Sacramento in the North to Bakersfield in the South. In the quiet space of orchards, you hear the bees. By late March, the Pacific pushes its black clouds over the Coast Range bringing rain to hammer away the blossoms. After a week-long wetting, scattered flowers litter the ground. In the stippling sunlight men in shirt sleeves walk the beaten down orchards surveying the destroyed blossoms, and they finger, with dread, the remaining clusters of buds. In the eyes of these men you see the worry of failure and the fear of falling that haunts their dreams.
Jim Garret was one of those men.
His acreage ran from the lip of the Kings River on a line west to the reaches of the Kingsburg Canal. It paralleled Kings Canyon Highway to the north, while Oliver Avenue bounded his property for half a mile to the south. There, Joseph Garret, Jim Garret’s father, built a small version of Paradise. He planted new vines to replace the vineyard his father, John Garret, planted in his youth. Jim planted a grove of persimmon trees, cultivated them more as a hobby than as enterprise. He called them the Golden Apples of the Hesperides to honor the Greek myths his mother read him before she taught him to read. He planted a grove of Valencias, the sweet juice orange that migrated from Spain to New Spain then up to Los Angeles and from there to the Central Valley. The Valencia is an exotic foreigner that feeds the imagination but the cash crop on Jim Garret’s acreage was the Thompson Seedless Grape.
The first vineyard was planted in Centerville on the Kings River in 1852. Jim Garret’s land has been under cultivation for over a hundred years. Now, in row after row, acre after acre the twisted vines line up, sons of Dionysus, Bacchus in the flesh, and Jim Garret knew the Maenads, the demons who tore the body of the god to pieces and he tended each vine with the care only a classicist who sees the god in the vine can reverence.
But then, he was bitten and he did not know there was no antidote to the desire for power. He did not yet know that he was sick and the sickness was political.